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Education

Did Menk campaign violate election law?


  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Jun. 20, 2022 - 10:46 PM

Did Menk campaign violate election law?

Photos by Beth Neely

Linda Menk and Paul Schneider Jr.

As many as 500 Coweta County School System employees had campaign emails from Linda Menk sent to their work addresses in the week leading up to Tuesday’s runoff election.

Teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals at Canongate, Thomas Crossroads and White Oak elementary schools, Arnall and Blake Bass middle schools, and Northgate High School – all schools in District 4 – received the emails.

Some recipients have lashed out against the mailing, saying Menk is attempting to commit election fraud by utilizing access to state employees’ work emails for political gain.

The work emails of employees who reported receiving Menk’s correspondence are publicly listed, primarily for easy access by parents and guardians, school officials say. The emails sent on Menk’s behalf were about politics, not education, protestors say, and state employees are expressly prohibited from utilizing work time or resources – including email accounts – to support or oppose political candidates in Georgia.

Menk currently holds the District 4 seat on the nonpartisan school board, but narrowly lost the May 24 popular vote to challenger Rob DuBose. However, DuBose did not meet Georgia’s threshold of more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff.

The first round of emails showed up in Canongate employees’ inboxes Wednesday afternoon. The emails were forwarded by Pray Coweta Director Paul Schneider Jr. – using the email paul@max-well.us – who topped the correspondence with each recipient’s name and wrote “I am sending this to you from Linda Menk.”

With the signature “Linda Menk - Coweta County Board of Education - District 4 Representative” and linked to both the vote4menk@gmail.com email and the www.vote4menk website, and the emails contained the greeting “Dear Canongate Elementary Staff Members.”

Similar emails were sent early Sunday to employees’ school accounts at Arnall, White Oak and Blake Bass, and on Sunday evening to employees at Northgate.

It was a sharp swerve in campaign focus for Menk, who appeared largely unconcerned with the Coweta school employee demographic until last week. Her initial campaign was fully supported by a national political action committee whose stated goal is to “take over” local school boards, and she is a well-documented and unapologetic school choice advocate.

Menk was one of four candidates on the PAC-funded slate, including three challengers who were soundly defeated on May 24.

Mailers featuring the names and images of the four PAC-backed candidates claimed local public schools were forcing critical race theory and transgender studies in classrooms, distributing anti-Second Amendment and anti-Pledge of Allegiance materials, and even providing pornography to students – allegations that infuriated Coweta school officials, educators and residents, who insisted the claims are patently untrue.

Menk’s campaign emails to personnel at District 4 schools had a distinctly different tone.

“I’d like to set the record straight regarding misinformation that may have been shared with you as staff members in our public schools,” she wrote to employees, going on to make several dubious claims about her service and commitment to them during her two terms on the board before “humbly asking” for their vote.

Menk wrote that “Teachers, Para Pro’s (sic) and other staff members” had come to her alleging “upper level management” was using intimidation tactics to discourage school employees from voting for her – another in a long line of serious accusations Menk has made against school system leadership over the years.

After being notified of the initial letter to Canongate staff, Superintendent Evan Horton reached out to Menk in an email on which Board Chairman Beth Barnett and Board Attorney Nathan Lee were also copied.

“This allegation is very concerning to me and it needs to be thoroughly investigated immediately,” Horton wrote. “Please provide me with any evidence you have that supports these allegations as soon as possible.”

Menk did not respond, and Horton reached out again after the same allegations were made in emails to school employees at several other schools Sunday afternoon.

“It is concerning to me that these allegations have been presented to you and that they have now been reported to Canongate, White Oak and Arnall staff members prior to being reported to me,” Horton said, this time in an email on which Barnett, Lee and the rest of the board members were copied.

Menk still had not responded to Horton as of Monday evening.

Appealing directly to the teachers and school administration to whom the emails were addressed, Menk made a plethora of claims about her two terms on the board, including that she has “100 percent” and “always” supported all employee pay raises, championed improvement to the teacher retirement plan, had meetings with “many” employees in various roles and had created a proposal to provide classroom supplies for teachers that was “shot down immediately.”

Those assertions diverge sharply with school system employees’ claims that Menk rarely, if ever, visits classrooms or makes appearances at special events at schools in her district. And public meeting records that show she has never voted in favor of a single yearly budget – not even those that included employee pay raises.

The NTH could locate no record of a Menk proposal to provide classroom supplies, and the first time she participated in a discussion about the state-administered Teacher Retirement system appears to have been at the June 14, 2022 meeting.

Still, in her emails she vowed to continue prioritizing employees.

“The same efforts I bring to parents and children, I provide for our staff as well,” she wrote. “You have my 100 percent guarantee that I will always be available to support you, to listen to you, respond to you and respect you.”

Her promises only served to fuel further outrage and confusion among the many Coweta Schools employees who are still smarting from the accusations leveled against them during the weeks leading up to the May 24 primary, during which some Menk supporters have become increasingly contemptuous of the board, schools and employees – especially on social media and in public comments at board meetings.

“Weeks ago, my entire profession here in Coweta was accused of ‘grooming and indoctrinating children’ but now (Menk’s) email tells me she will … ‘always support me’ and ‘always respect me?’” said one longtime teacher who asked to remain unnamed for this story. “Does that mean she supports and respects us for grooming and indoctrinating children? Or is she now admitting that her previous mailers were filled with lies and none of those things ever happened?”

DuBose said Menk’s 11th-hour antics – which in 2018 included a slew of accusations of wrongdoing against her fellow board members regarding a multi-million-dollar athletic stadium renovation and installation of artificial turf – are on brand for the embattled incumbent.

“This tactic is not new to her,” DuBose said. “Over the past eight years, I feel Ms. Menk has created controversy and failed to support the District 4 community. I have heard from many teachers and administration that they are tired of her lack of support and false accusations. She is out of touch with what’s really happening in our schools, and it’s time for a change.”

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Editor's Note: Anyone who suspects voter intimidation or illegal election activity is urged to call the Office of the Georgia Attorney General's Election Fraud Complaint Hotline at 888-532-0148 or visit this page to fill out an online report.